You can support your own mental health in a number of ways, but a really helpful strategy is to develop your own wellbeing or wellness action plan. A wellbeing action plan (WAP) has a number of benefits:
- It can help pick up early warning signs that you may be heading for a lapse.
- It can keep your behavioral activation skills fresh by revisiting the treatments and self-help techniques that worked previously.
- With the support of colleagues and supervisors, it can help you take ownership of practical ways to stay healthy and productive at work.
Devising Your Plan
I've seen many WAPs, some very detailed and others quite simple. People who use them either start out with an off-the-shelf template (which they then adapt to their own needs), or they devise a plan with their therapist. What follows is a basic WAP plan.
I suggest you print it off and adapt it to your own requirements. Try to dedicate a little time each week to go over your plan, adapt it and keep it updated and active.
Your Moods and Wellbeing
In order to monitor your moods you'll need some method of record keeping (paper, diary, electronic). Make sure you write in your review date as this can help to keep track of mood cycles as well as activities or situations that either promote wellbeing or work against it. Now some sub-headings. I suggest starting with these and building on them as necessary:
- How have I been feeling this week?
- Have I noticed any of my red flag (early warning) symptoms?
- Have I avoided anything because I was too anxious or my mood was too low?
- Do I need to take any action to improve my mood (if so, what worked before)?
- What am I going to do, when am I going to start and do I need support at this stage?
- My next review day is ...
Using WAP for Work
For many people their work situation represents the biggest daily challenge. With the right support you can really make your WAP work to your advantage. The first step is to map out the ways in which work affects you. Using your record make notes on the following:
- Situations most likely to trigger stress (e.g. new work colleagues, hectic deadlines, customers)
- Ways in which this affects your work (e.g. concentration, accidents, anger)
- Your red flags (e.g. getting short-tempered, feeling overwhelmed)
Using WAP with Supervisors
Many supervisors rightly view maintaining the wellbeing of their staff as a duty. They can help the health and wellbeing of all staff by encouraging work practices that involve healthy working hours and a positive work/life balance.
If a staff member explains he or she is using a WAP record to maintain wellbeing, that allows supervisors an opportunity to provide support. This decreases the likelihood of sick days and so increases work productivity. It works by focusing on what employees can do rather than what they can't and by working to together to find solutions.
- Encourage the staff member to add into their WAP the things you as a supervisor might do to help support them.
- Increase your own understanding by asking them the best things to do if symptoms start developing.
- Consider flexible solutions.
- Provide opportunities for feedback and discussion.
- Don't be afraid to point out what needs improving, but don't forget to be clear about your priorities using realistic targets.
- Give praise.
- Seek support yourself if you're uncertain as to your position.
Top Tips for WAP Users
If you're feeling well it may be tempting to skip your reviews. Try to keep it up and record the reasons why things are positive for you. This could be a helpful resource in the future.
If things aren't working out be kind to yourself, slow the pace and set easier to achieve goals.
Don't overthink your mood. Moods go up and down naturally.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.